Photo: Sang Lee PhD
The (R)evolution Starts Here
Can architecture feel, react, live? To get a hint, all you need to do is enter Philip Beesley’s Noosphere. One step or gesture is enough to wake up this glittering, enchanted artificial forest. Like a curious child, the immersive installation reacts to visitors with vibrations, sounds, and patterns of light that spread through the complex structure like soft whispers.
Photo: Sang Lee PhD
Far more than the sum of its parts
The architect and artist Philip Beesley has spent more than four decades perfecting his ’living’ installations. More often than not, the results are surprising – even to Beesley himself – since they literally develop a life of their own. “New technologies like the Human Genome Project decipher biological processes and give us all the information sets that make up the natural world. With this information, makers, scientists, engineers and architects can – for the first time – use the latest digital and synthetic technologies to literally make living things. I think it’s extremely exciting and important to play around with these concepts and learn from nature,” states Beesley, while his team puzzles out how the 250,000+ parts of his Noosphere fit together.
Their precise interplay of architecture, chemistry, Artificial Intelligence, and sound is almost as complicated as the world it is designed to reflect. Countless microprocessors and tiny motors are suspended in the silky, airy mesh of woven steel and acrylic. Looking further, you’ll spot 3-D printed lampshades, made-to-measure glass vessels, wafer-thin foil leaves, and myriad sensors. As a huge fan of bionics and biomimicry [Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bionics], the artist deliberately copies concepts that are successful in nature. His extremely lightweight, skeletal scaffolds, for example, mimic the hollow bones of birds. Despite their low density, these scaffolds support substantial weight. Meanwhile, chemical ‘proto cells’ inside glass flasks simulate the origin of life.
Many cooks imnprove the broth
Something this complex takes a lot of expertise. Philip Beesley places a great emphasis on an intense exchange with lateral thinkers from a broad range of different disciplines. His Living Architecture Systems (LAS) collective not only comprises engineers and biologists, but also developers, psychologists, designers, futurologists, and artists like the avant-garde fashion designer Iris van Herpen. “With projects like these, we’ve moved far beyond the idea that one single person could really create something so profoundly immersive. Instead, collaboration means that we can build so many different parts together, cooperate, and arrive at something larger than any of us.”
Up to 40 experts are usually involved in the process, from initial sketch to injection mould and algorithm, to connect everything like a smoothly running nervous system. And the fun doesn’t stop once the installation is in place. Similar to the principles of evolution, Beesley’s works spawns their own descendants. Work by work, his installations become more complex and more refined. Even the featured sensors and microprocessors learn from the recorded data and experiences. “We’ve programmed a sense of curiosity into the software that is constantly searching for new behavioural patterns. So, the system’s reactions are always different. Nothing ever repeats itself.”
Life in the Noosphere
The ambitious, ever-shifting results not only look, sound, and feel ambitious and impressive, they also refuse to be pigeon-holed. The fascinating temporary state of Beesley’s career might not look like traditional architecture, but the principles could shape our future lives. The architect would love to replace today’s solid concrete slabs with open, living landscapes that sense, understand and communicate with us. Flexible forms that remain extremely resilient even when made from minimal resources.
Digital patterns anyone can use to create something new from very little. Buildings that redesign and even repair themselves. Will they actually be ‘alive’? Who knows. And who cares – as long as they make our own lives worth living.
NOOSPHERE is a project from Living Architecture Systems Group/Philip Beesley Studio and has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, University of Waterloo, Canada Council for the Arts, EnTimeMent and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 824160